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Biden says US troops would defend Taiwan from attack by Beijing

US President Joe Biden has said that American troops would defend Taiwan if Beijing were to attack the island – his clearest statement yet on the issue.

In a 60 Minutes interview that aired on Sunday, Biden was asked whether the US would defend the island. He responded: “Yes, if in fact there was an unprecedented attack.”

He also said “yes” when asked to clarify whether that meant “US forces, US men and women” would defend Taiwan in case of an attack from Beijing.

Biden’s comment is the latest in a long US-China tussle over Taiwan.

The 1979 Taiwan Relations Act, which governs US ties with Taiwan, requires the United States to ensure the self-ruled island has the resources for self-defence and to prevent any unilateral change of status in Taiwan by Beijing. But it does not require the US to defend the self-ruled island militarily.

Washington has historically been strategically ambiguous about the United States’ role if Beijing were to attack the island. The strategic ambiguity allows Washington to keep ties with Beijing and to deter attacks on the island.

Beijing sees Taiwan as a Chinese province to be taken under its control, by force by necessary.

The US, like most countries, does not recognise Taiwan as independent and sees Beijing as the sole legal government of China. However, it only acknowledges and does not affirm Beijing’s position that Taiwan is a part of China. It also opposes unilateral changes to the status quo, especially by force.

Biden made a similar comment during a visit to Japan in May, when he answered in the affirmative to a reporter’s question about whether the US was willing to get involved militarily to defend Taiwan. “Yes, that’s the commitment we made,” he said.

In the 60 Minutes interview, he also said Chinese President Xi Jinping should know that “we agree with what we signed on to a long time ago”.

He also said the US has a one-China policy and was “not encouraging their being independent”. It is up to Taiwan to decide on its independence, he said.

White House officials told the news programme that the US policy on Taiwan had not changed. When Biden made his comments in Tokyo in May, the White House also clarified that the US president’s comments did not reflect a policy change.

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